The call could come at any time of day or night. Our team would assemble and, in a race against the clock, make the solemn journey to the particular location in New England. We were honored to play a role in helping organ donors give their last gifts — the gift of life to complete strangers in need of transplants.

Years ago during my training as a surgical technologist, I had the opportunity to witness organ transplants during one of my rotations. These were amazing, and the experience eventually led me to a job with the New England Organ Bank, the nation’s oldest independent organ procurement organization.

I am so grateful to have had that experience. It is part of what led me to support legislation that will make such a difference for some of the many people in need of organ transplants.

I’m proud of the 126th Legislature’s work in this area. It shows what we can accomplish together.

Last year, lawmakers unanimously approved a bill that raises awareness about how organ donors save lives. The law put a voluntary check-off box on driver’s license applications for residents who would like to donate $2 to organ donation awareness efforts.

This year, lawmakers from both sides of the aisle came together to overwhelmingly pass a measure to increase the chances that cancer patients will find bone marrow donor matches. Under the new law, insurance will cover up to $150 for one test for a prospective donor. The law addresses the fact the wait time for patients can exceed the window of time in which they can benefit from transplants.

I’m optimistic that the Legislature can do even more to improve the odds for those needing an organ transplant.

Nearly 120,000 Americans are need an organ transplant; more than 5,000 of them are in New England. Every day, 17 people in the United States die while waiting for an organ transplant.

Last year, more than 28,000 organ transplants gave people a second chance at life. Cornea and tissue transplants also helped 1 million people recover from injuries, hearing and vision loss.

Anyone, regardless of age, gender, race, medical history or social status, can sign up to be a donor.

Most transplants come from deceased donors, who suffered irreversible brain damage after an accident or illness. After death is legally declared, doctors have a matter of minutes to determine whether a transplant is viable.

If that is the case, a team of transplant surgeons must act quickly. The hospital notifies the local organ procurement organization, such the New England Organ Bank, to coordinate the process.

The organ procurement organization checks a database to see whether the deceased had enrolled as an organ donor. If not, the deceased’s family is asked for consent. If given, evaluation for donor suitability can begin, as can the journey to bring the organs to the site of the transplant.

One donor can save up to eight lives, with heart, lungs, kidneys, liver, pancreas, intestines.

In my work with the New England Organ Bank, we never had direct contact with either the donors’ loved ones or the recipients and their families. We were gratified, however, to receive notes from both the giving and receiving sides of a donation. We heard about how donations helped accident victims and patients with life-threatening diseases. We heard from parents who were grateful that their children’s hearts were functioning properly. We heard from families who found some solace in their loved one’s final gift.

I urge all Maine residents to consider registering as an organ donor. It’s easy to sign up when renewing a driver’s license or state identification card at the local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office or at Organ Donor Registry online service, organdonor.gov.

Participation in one of the most important medical advances of our time could lead to the greatest of all possible gifts: life.

Rep. Catherine Nadeau, D-Winslow, is serving her first term in the Legislature and represents Winslow and part of Benton. She serves on the State and Local Government Committee.


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